Critics’ Picks

Gabriel Kuri, Untitled (scratch lotto oysters), 2019, stainless steel and Plexiglas lightbox, oyster shells, scratch card, 62 5/8 x 39 3/8 x 2 3/8".

Gabriel Kuri, Untitled (scratch lotto oysters), 2019, stainless steel and Plexiglas lightbox, oyster shells, scratch card, 62 5/8 x 39 3/8 x 2 3/8".

Brussels

Gabriel Kuri

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre
Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354
September 6, 2019–January 5, 2020

The ocean is full of trash, and so is Gabriel Kuri’s show. It begins with a room full of sand. The overwhelming Donation Box, 2010–19, is no idyllic seaside, but a sprawling ashtray brimming with cigarette butts. Occupying the space is intolerable, breathing its foul air a repulsive experience. Yet magnification begets attention. In Untitled (stages in an event line), 2019, bread-bag clips connected by wires in a neat row stand knee-high, like recipients of some industrial growth hormone. In Magenta stripe polypthic gobelin tapestry (aeropuerto), 2008, the artist’s receipts are transformed into floor-to-ceiling tapestries. The charges—a currency exchange at the Mexico City airport, Gruyère from a Brussels creamery—index the artist’s past and present hometowns.

A material consciousness distinguishes these augmented readymades from mere knee-jerk indictments of litter and pollution. Kuri’s use of straws, lottery tickets, paper towels, and plastic bags captures the fallout of capitalist accumulation, meretricious abundance built on cycles of obsolescence and devaluation. Encompassing past uses and entropic futures, trash speaks louder than treasure. One imagines the artist rifling through dumpsters, extracting wrappers crammed in corners, sneaking extra napkins into his pockets, each act a process considering the human organism in decadent decline.

In this sea of things mass-produced or pretending to be, various shells appear: oysters in Untitled (scratch lotto oysters), 2019, alongside glittering, unscratched lottery tickets; mussels in Untitled (Dimensional equivalence), 2016, affixed to a metric conversion chart; conches in Tongues and Holes, 2019, variously below, inside, and above paper-towel dispensers. The presence of exoskeletons, records of past inhabitance, helps evade any trite conflation of modernity and meaninglessness. Eyeing coeval voids and surpluses, Kuri traces the transfer (inaccurate, faltering, human) of life into object, into art, into language. What is heard inside the empty shell? Nothingness, resonance, the noise of the surrounding environment, blood flowing.